To Wake From a Dream

By Mobile Richard <mobile.richard@mailcity.com>

Rated PG

Submitted August 1999

Summary: What if Lois were to find out that her favorite superhero was just a man, with needs and imperfections like any other man? Find out in this story as it explores a first-season Lois & Clark relationship.

This story takes place after the episode "Vatman," and branches off from there. I've taken some liberties with the timeline, delaying the Meriwether award by several weeks and changing the winner. For the spelling of the Meriwether award, I'm using the spelling for the given name of Meriwether Lewis, of the "Lewis and Clark" expedition that explored the American west in the nineteenth century.

All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd Productions Ltd; no infringement of any property rights are intended by their use, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted 1999 to the author — please do not redistribute without my permission.

As always, comments are welcomed at mobile.richard@mailcity.com

***

"Over here, Lois!" She heard Jimmy's voice, but she couldn't immediately see him … oh, yes, beside the cotton candy. Lois walked over with her usual energetic step, ignoring the sidelong glances she received from some of the men. Neatly avoiding collision with a hand-holding couple, she was standing in front of the young man within seconds of spotting him.

She managed to wrest two tickets from the pocket of her cutoffs, and presented them without flourish. Jimmy beamed at her. "You got 'em — thanks, Lois!" he said gratefully. "I owe ya!" His eyes dropped, sweeping down her body, then hastily returned to her face. Noticing that she had seen the direction of his gaze, he gulped, "You look … um… nice!" He was rescued from embarrassing himself further by Perry's irascible voice calling for him.

"'Nice' is hardly the word I'd use," said a sultry voice at Lois's side. "Who are you trying to impress with that tight T-shirt and cutoffs, Lois?"

Lois tossed her head impatiently. "I'm not trying to 'impress' anyone," she said. "Who's here at the picnic that I'd *want* to 'impress'?"

"Well …" Cat cast her eyes around the park, "… there's Richie, and … umm-UMMM-ummm … yes!"

"What?" said Lois, interested in spite of herself. "Who?"

"Clark," Cat pronounced dramatically. "Get a load of *his* T-shirt! Talk about *impressed*!" She shamelessly ogled Clark, who was currently surrounded by several giggling young women.

"Oh … Clark …," said Lois, dismissing him from consideration with a wave of her hand. "He's okay, I guess."

"*Okay*?" Cat's snort of amusement was disbelieving. "You call him okay?? Look at that T-shirt, Lois … you can't tell me you haven't *looked* …"

Lois, who didn't want to discuss Clark's "T-shirt" with Cat Grant, or anyone else for that matter, tossed her head again. "Well, Cat," her pretty lips curled into a scowl, "once Superman has held you in his arms," and she knew Cat hadn't had that experience, "no 'normal' man's 'T-shirt' *can* look good in comparison!" With that parting triumphant shot, she spun on her heel and strode away as briskly as the crowded park would allow.

Lois seethed with indignation. As if anyone could think Clark was good-looking after seeing Superman! Imagine! Oh, sure, Clark had a decent-looking body, but just compare how he got that body to how, for instance, Superman got his! One man developed his muscles by shoveling chicken dirt and pig stench, while the other got his physique by … she sighed dreamily … bench-pressing space shuttles!

"Lois? Wait a minute … could I ask you something?" said a breathless voice behind her.

Lois gritted her teeth. Now what? She whirled to face Stephanie, a junior reporter in City, and a perpetual thorn in her side. "Yes?"

"Is Clark … that is, are you and Clark … well, seeing each other?"

Lois wondered why the question annoyed her. Probably because mealy-mouthed Stephanie wouldn't come right out and ask what she really wanted to know. "'Seeing each other?' Oh! You mean *dating*," she said, as if the meaning of Stephanie's question had just now dawned on her. "No, Stephanie, we're not *dating*. Why?"

"I was just … I didn't want to tread on anyone's toes or anything."

"'Tread on anyone's *toes*?'" Lois pretended that she didn't have a clue what Stephanie was talking about.

"Yes. I didn't want to get in the way if you and he are … you know …" Stephanie made a vague gesture with her hand.

"No, we're not …" Lois mimicked the gesture. "So feel free to do … whatever!" But her sarcasm was lost on the young woman, who drifted away to approach the group encircling Clark. Lois wrinkled her nose. There was something so revolting about women pursuing a man in that manner. Disgusting, really.

Not that women shouldn't go after what they wanted … no, of course not … women should be free to pursue their interests, whatever or *whoever* they were, but … when they ran after Clark like that … well … Here Lois paused in her reflections. She couldn't put her finger on exactly what it was that she found so irritating about those women vying for Clark's attention — she just knew that she wasn't going to be one of them. No. No way.

So how it happened that her feet conveyed her to the little group assembled around Clark, she couldn't have said exactly. Nor why she pushed her way through the circle and, placing one hand on Clark's muscular arm and the other on the front of the T-shirt that Cat had admired so zealously only minutes earlier, called his attention to the fact that he still owed her for that bet …

"What bet?" Clark directed his gaze at Lois, and there was an almost audible collective sigh as the young women realized all at once that they had been wasting their time, there was no use in trying to get Clark's attention, because Lois had it, always had and always would, just as she had since Clark first laid eyes on her. It wasn't that Clark was rude to the other women; oh no, he remained as courteous as ever, politely inclining his head and focusing on whoever was speaking to him, but there was *that* in his eyes that told the assembled party that his thoughts, and his heart, were with the imperious, dusky-haired whirlwind known as Lois Lane.

The group dispersed rather quickly after Lois's arrival, Lois receiving some envious glances and a few muttered "dog-in-the-manger's", all of which she properly ignored, of course, and which Clark didn't hear at all, or at least, gentlemanly fellow that he was, pretended not to.

Lois stuck close to Clark for the rest of the day, much to Clark's secret gratification, although he was prudent enough not to let Lois see how much he enjoyed her company, hiding his pleasure under a cover of teasing banter. Perry calling Clark to one side to engage in what Lois sarcastically called "male bonding" of necessity separated them later that evening, and Lois took that opportunity to sneak in a much-needed visit to the ladies' room, where she ran into Stephanie again.

"Way to go, Lois," said Stephanie sourly.

"What do you mean?" asked Lois innocently.

"Clark," said Stephanie. "He was in danger of straying, and you brought him back to heel. Nice."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Lois snapped.

"Clark," repeated Stephanie. "You don't want him, or at least you say* you don't, but you give the guy just enough attention to give him some hope and keep him on the string." Stephanie shook her head. "Why don't you give the poor guy a break, Lois, and let him find someone els —"

"I do not!" Lois's voice rose. "I do not keep him on a string! He's free to do whatever he pleases! And …" she added pointedly, "if he's not going out with anyone, I'm sure it's because he hasn't found anyone he considers attractive!"

Stephanie shrugged and reached around Lois to throw a paper towel into the trash. "I'm telling you, Lois," she said, straightening and turning to face the reporter, "if you keep treating him like that, he'll make a *point* of finding someone else attractive. He must be getting awfully tired of hanging on your string!"

Lois was still fuming when she rejoined Clark. Peering up at him, she searched his face for signs that he was getting tired of her, but he looked the same as always, good-humored and unflappable.

"Ready?" he asked, cocking an inquiring eyebrow at her.

"Yes! Let's go home!" she said, shivering in the rapidly cooling night air. She laid a hand on his arm and nudged him in the direction of the street, where they managed to flag down a taxi. Still shivering even after they had settled into the back seat, Lois huddled against Clark, involuntarily seeking the heat of his body. Clark made no objection, and even put his arm obligingly around her, placing his hand on her bare arm to warm it further. Lois leaned her head comfortably against his chest, glad that she could do this without fearing that he would misunderstand her intentions.

"Sleepy?" asked Clark. There was no answer, and, smiling, he shifted her position so that her head wasn't lying at quite so awkward an angle. No sense in letting her wake up with a stiff neck …

***

"Lois! Lois, wake up! We're here!"

What? Lois raised her head and peered about uncertainly. She had been having the most wonderful dream! Superman had finally declared his love for her and swept her into his arms, where he was holding her close to his chest. The sound of his voice pronouncing her name had awakened her to see, not the super hero, but Clark. Her disappointment was keen, but she bit off the rude retort that had sprung to her lips at being so crudely awakened, and managed to tell Clark quite civilly that he didn't need to shout … she wasn't auditory-ally-challenged!

"I was afraid I was going to have to carry you," Clark explained with a straight face, "and I didn't want to risk straining my back."

"You … if carrying *me* would strain … you … I don't weigh *that* much …!" Lois sputtered, fully awake now. Clark merely grinned and offered his hand, attempting to assist her from the cab. She shook him off, however, saying crossly that she didn't want him to over-exert himself! Marching up the steps, she pretended not to notice that Clark had paid off the cab driver and was hurrying after her. She had a mind to tell him that dismissing the taxi wasn't going to get him an invitation to enter her apartment, but they had been through this enough times already for her to know that he didn't have any such expectation, that he just intended to escort her safely to her own door, and then he would walk home … because he *preferred* to walk, really.

After sending Clark on his way and closing the door after him, Lois sighed, flopping onto the sofa. She lay down, sighing again as she settled into a curled-up position in order to aid in fantasizing about the man she loved — Superman! How wonderful her dream had been! And how cruel her awakening! And how, oh, how she wished he were here now! He would know just how to hold her, know just what soothing or passionate words she needed to hear. He would be the perfect friend, the perfect lover. The kindest, most generous man in the world … and all hers! "Oh, Superman," she whispered, "why don't you come to me now?"

***

The following morning saw Lois resume her customary frenetic activity after taking the unusual day off for the Daily Planet's annual picnic. She didn't see much of Clark during the morning, since they took separate paths in the Barber case that they were investigating together, but they met to confer in the middle of the afternoon.

"Coffee?" Clark asked. At Lois's nod, he snatched up her mug and loped quickly toward the coffee machine.

When he didn't immediately return, Lois raised her eyes and searched the room for him, tossing her head impatiently when she saw that he had been cornered by Stephanie and was apparently deep in conversation with her.

Oh, for Pete's sake, Clark! Why are you wasting your time with that woman? Lois shot to her feet and headed in their direction, hesitating briefly as she considered whether it was worth the risk of provoking Stephanie into saying, "dog in the manger" or "bring him to heel" in front of Clark. But she charged ahead anyway … this was business!

"Are we going to go over our notes or not???" she interrupted Clark, her voice rising. She disregarded the irritated glance Stephanie threw at her.

"Yeah, sure. Sorry," said Clark easily. He excused himself from Stephanie and followed Lois back to her desk.

"I can't *beLIEVE* you're standing around talking to that … that *woman* when we have all this work to do," Lois grumbled after Clark had set her mug on the desk.

"Why? What's wrong with her?" asked Clark innocently.

"Nothing!" said Lois, "except …"

"Except …?" said Clark, the corners of his lips beginning to turn up.

"She just wants to find a presentable date to escort her to her ten-year class reunion!" snapped Lois, "… and you *are* presentable. Well … sort of …" and she reached up to pick an imaginary speck of lint from his jacket.

"Why, thank you, Lois," said Clark with heavy irony.

"You're welcome!" she said, affecting not to notice the sarcasm. Then she gave him a quick look from under her eyelashes. "You're not going to go, are you?" she asked. "Not that I care, but I'd hate to see you being used like that."

"As it happens … no, I'm not going to go," said Clark, smiling now. "She didn't ask me."

Lois breathed a sigh of relief, covering it with an unconvincing cough.

"She just wanted me to help her with researching a story she's working on right now," Clark added.

"You're not doing *that*, I hope," frowned Lois, turning over a page of her notes.

"Well, yes I am," said Clark. "I'm going over to her place tonight to —"

"Clark!!" Lois bounced out of her chair. "You don't have time for that! We're working on the Barber story!"

"Not 24 hours a day," Clark reminded her. "And it's only for one evening. She needs help in logging on to the Delhi computer remotely, and I'm going to show her how, just to get her started … what's the matter? Lois?"

"Nothing!" said Lois, her lower lip drooping. "Are we going to stand here wasting time or are we going to go over these notes??"

***

Later that evening, as Lois was reviewing her notes on the Barber investigation she suddenly clapped her hands together in glee.

Well, well, well, what's this? Felix Industries. Who would have thought they would prove to be a heavy contributor to the Barber campaign? Yes-s-s! Lois allowed herself a smile as she triumphantly stretched her arms overhead. She jumped up off the sofa and fetched a can of cream soda from her refrigerator.

I'm glad I decided to look through these documents tonight … it's nice to know that *one* half of this partnership is making some headway on our story!

Lois toyed briefly with the thought of calling Clark and telling him the good news, but, no, he probably hadn't returned yet from his "business" meeting with Stephanie. Lois's lips curled scornfully. How Clark could have been taken in by that woman, she couldn't imagine! Really, sometimes he's so naive! She glanced at the clock … maybe she *should* try calling him again, he might be in by now … no, it's only been five minutes since she last called him. She should wait at least fifteen minutes before trying again.

Lois sighed and bent her head over the documents, gritting her teeth in annoyance when she realized that her decimal point had been in the wrong place when she computed the figures for Felix's contributions. So there was no lead there after all. Darn! She looked at the clock again. Should she call Clark yet? No, only three minutes had crawled by.

Where is he? And why do I care?

She laid down her pencil impatiently, standing up to pace restlessly back and forth.

I'm not jealous, am I? No, why would I be jealous? Clark's just my partner. Okay, he's more than that … he's my friend, too. My *good* friend. And yes, as obnoxious as Cat's remarks were, she's right … I *have* 'looked'. Clark is attractive — I'll grant that. And a real nice guy. But I just don't have time to get involved with a man … there's my work, and … and … well, there's my work, and it doesn't leave much time for anything else, at least not romance.

Of course, that's not to say that if someone really special came along, like, say Superman, that I wouldn't find time for romance!

She sighed.

Superman. The perfect man. Good and kind and noble. A man who dedicates his life to helping others. That's a man worth losing sleep over! Not like Clark! Clark is … well, okay, Clark is kind, too. He's sweet. But he's not like Superman. He's just so … ordinary.

So forget about Clark. Think about Superman instead — yes, Superman. I know I would be able to tell him everything about myself and he would understand me and accept me just as I am. He would *love* me, love everything about me. Clark's pretty accepting, too — he never seems to mind my dark moods.

Why did I start thinking about Clark again?? Stop it, Lane! You're thinking about Superman here!

Lois dragged her thoughts back to Superman, then reminded herself that she had brought home work to do and bent her head over her paperwork again.

But by eleven-thirty, Lois had given up all pretense of working and was pacing up and down the room once more.

Where's Clark? Don't tell me he's still with that woman! What could they possibly have found to talk about all this time?

O-oh … drat that man! How could I have let him get under my skin like this? I didn't even *like* that hick hack, but somehow he *made* me notice him and now he's got me so tied up in knots I can't even think straight!

Why can't I just have a great guy like Superman, a guy who would never make me worry like this, no, never. He's the kind of man who would never cause you a minute's anxiety. I wouldn't have to worry about him running off with Cat Grant or Tony Baines or Linda King or Stephanie or any of the other women who seem to find Clark attractive, I don't know why … yes, I do, Clark *is* attractive, and he's never shown any interest in Cat or Linda or Stephanie, and he's so sweet and so naive … I wonder if I should go to Stephanie's and rescue him — I'd hate to see him fall into Stephanie's trap …

This is all my fault. How could I have let Stephanie get him into her clutches? Poor, sweet Clark is so innocent; if Stephanie comes on to him he'll be too nice to say "no", even though he's not interested in her (he's *not* interested in her, is he? — he can't be!) and then he'll feel like he's compromised her or something (he's just that kind of old-fashioned guy) and feel that he has to marry her and …

No. Even Clark wouldn't do that, would he??

By midnight, Lois couldn't stand it anymore. Throwing on a light wrap (for the late summer evenings had grown cool), she stormed out of her apartment. She would check out Clark's place, and if he wasn't there, she'd stake out Stephanie's condo. If anyone (like, say, Clark) happened to see her there, she was sure she could think of an excuse to explain why she was in that section of town.

Lois was standing irresolutely in front of Clark's darkened apartment when she heard the sirens. A fire! And quite near, by the sound of it. Pulling her camera from her bag, she hurried in the direction of the disturbance.

It turned out to be a false alarm, but that hadn't prevented Superman from appearing on the scene. "Lois!" he said when he saw her. "What are you doing here?"

"I … just happened to be in the neighborhood and …" Lois's voice trailed off when she remembered that Superman and Clark were friends. What if Superman told Clark that she was in his neighborhood and Clark guessed that she had come here to spy on him? She blushed.

"Come on," said Superman, not appearing to notice Lois's embarrassment. "I'll take you home."

Lois moved willingly into his arms, clasping her hands lightly behind his neck. This was an unexpected and not wholly unwelcome dividend from her little foray into surveillance. As Superman lifted her effortlessly, Lois recalled Clark's crack about getting a hernia, reminding her that she still hadn't discovered whether her absent partner had returned … no, she wasn't going to think about him. She was in the arms of the man she loved, and Clark's doings didn't concern her in the least!

As was his custom, Superman was silent during the brief flight to her apartment, and Lois occupied herself with imagining how, upon their arrival, instead of relinquishing her, Superman would hold her tightly in his arms and bend his head to kiss her, murmuring that he was so much in love with her, oh, yes, really.

This agreeable fantasy was not to become reality, however — at least not tonight. Superman set her down gently in the living room, and Lois could not bring herself to invite him to stay; he looked so remote and untouchable, as always.

After he left, Lois sighed and wandered languidly into her bedroom. She couldn't *believe* she had been so worked up about Clark's business meeting with Stephanie … not with a man like Superman around! Superman was everything Lois had ever hoped for or dreamed of in a man. Kind, gentle, honest, strong — the strongest man in the world, in fact, and yet she always felt so safe with him. Completely trustworthy; he can be counted on never to press his advantage with a woman — how many men can you trust completely? (Here it occurred to Lois that she could trust Clark in just such a way, but she hastily pushed that thought aside — she wasn't thinking about Clark right now!)

Yes, Superman is a true gentleman … hmmm, maybe that's why he's always been so standoffish … maybe he's afraid of forcing himself on me! Yes, that must be it!

Lois wished she had taken the initiative and hugged Superman, and, yes, kissed him, too. Then he would have taken her into his arms, she knew it. She knew he felt the same way toward her, he just had to!

Lois curled up on the bed, smiling as she imagined Superman's lips on hers, hearing his voice telling her that he loved her, too …

***

Lois was in a bad temper the next morning, arriving late because she had forgotten to pick up her suit from the dry cleaner the day before. Her mood didn't improve when the sight that greeted her eyes upon exiting the elevator was of Stephanie and Clark deep in conversation beside the coffee machine. Lois hurried to her desk, but found that Clark, who had ended his conversation with Stephanie as soon as he had spied Lois, was right behind her.

"Good morning, Lois!" he sang out cheerfully. "Coffee?" He held her mug out to her. She nodded toward her desk, indicating that he should set the coffee down, and he did so before taking a sip from his own mug. "Ready to dive into the Barber investigation?" Clark asked. Lois mumbled something under her breath. "What's the matter, partner; have a rough evening?" asked Clark sympathetically.

"You could say that …" said Lois, giving Clark a sidelong glance.

"Anyone I know?" Clark teased.

"Yes," Lois paused, then said in sudden inspiration, "Superman!" Clark raised his eyebrows in surprise, and too late, Lois remembered that Clark and Superman were friends. It wouldn't do to try to make Clark jealous by saying she had been on a date with Superman … it would be too easy for him to find out the truth …

*Make Clark jealous*! What was she saying?? She wasn't trying to make Clark jealous! What a strange thought!

She hastened to explain the circumstances to Clark, who accepted her account without comment, then she launched into a detailed description of her investigation of the Barber documents the previous evening.

"Hey, CK, take a look at this!" Jimmy's voice interrupted them. Lois frowned in annoyance.

"What is it, Jimmy? Oh … what are you doing with that dog?"

"Ellie brought him in … isn't she a beaut? Hey, Princess, why are you growling at CK?"

"That's strange," said Ellie, "I've never seen her do that before! Usually she's so friendly! Take it easy, girl! I don't know why she's doing that!"

"Like Superman," said Jimmy. "Dogs don't like him, either."

"They do *so* like Superman!" Lois flared in defense of her hero. "They're just a little suspicious of him at first, that's all! They can tell he's not like the rest of us. But they always like him after they've had a chance to get to know him."

"There!" said Ellie in relief. "See, Mr. Kent, she *does* like you! She was just suspicious for some reason …"

"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" growled Perry, stomping out of his office. "What's that dog doin' in here? What do you think this is, 'Bring Your Pet to Work Day?'" He scowled at the group that had clustered around Lois's desk, scattering them in all directions. "Let's get some work done here!" And there was no further discussion of the dog's suspicions about Clark.

***

The rest of the week passed in a blur of activity, and Lois welcomed the weekend with relief. Stephanie seemed to have retreated from Clark, having made no more moves on him, and Lois knew that Clark wouldn't be seeing "that woman" on the weekend, since his parents were coming to Metropolis to visit.

Lois saw nothing of Clark all weekend, but she ran into both Jonathan and Martha outside the Daily Planet building on Monday morning. "Hi, Lois," said Martha. "Sorry we can't stay to chat … we have a plane to catch. Tell Clark we're sorry we missed him."

Lois responded appropriately, juggling her briefcase and cafe mocha as she passed through the revolving doors into the Planet building. Upstairs, she switched on her terminal and began uploading notes from her laptop, observing with irritation that Stephanie was talking to Jimmy near her desk. Was there no way of getting away from that woman?

"Hey, Lois, have you seen CK?"

Lois looked up to see Jimmy advancing toward her, a sheaf of notes in his hand. "Not yet," she said. "What are those?"

"Messages for CK," replied Jimmy.

Lois extended her hand. "I'll take them; there might be something here about the Barber case." After Jimmy left, she thumbed through the messages, noting with relief that there were none from Stephanie. She wouldn't put it past that woman to be sneaking notes to Clark, asking for more "assistance". No, the messages were all work-related, except for one from Martha Kent. Lois read it without compunction:

*"Sorry we missed you, honey,

but good work in Chile …

we're so proud! Drop by any

time. Wednesday's open.

Love, Mom and Dad."*

Sweet. But that's not how you spell chili, Martha, and the word shouldn't be capitalized. And telling him to "drop by" as if Kansas were only minutes away! Really!

Amused, Lois tossed the messages onto Clark's desk and resumed her interrupted task. Minutes later, she looked up with a frown. Someone had turned up the volume on the television, disrupting her concentration. "Wow! Superman's having a busy day!" said someone. "First he helped with the mudslide in Chile, then he rescued the fishing boat that caught on fire off the coast of Maine — doesn't the guy ever rest?" Lois glanced briefly at the television screen, which was displaying footage of some of Superman's more dramatic rescues, then tuned out the distractions, focusing on her work.

Only Clark's arrival ten minutes later succeeded in penetrating her preoccupation. "Where have you been?" she greeted him. "We were supposed to go to the courthouse this morning! And I need you to go over these figures with me. And, oh, yes, you missed your parents."

"Sorry," said Clark. As he bent to pick up the notes, Lois wrinkled her nose.

"You smell like fish," she complained. "And smoke. I can just guess what you had for breakfast."

Clark, who had looked alarmed at her first words, smiled weakly and apologized again, then bent his head to read the notes Lois had printed out. Before he could complete his perusal, however, he had raised his head and his face assumed the expression that Lois had come to call his "outer space look." "Uh, Lois, I'll be right back," he said. "I forgot … forgot … something …" He dashed for the elevator, fiddling with his tie.

"But …!" Lois was talking to empty space. Seething, she began jamming papers into her briefcase. She'd have to go to the courthouse alone!

She had just completed her preparations when Perry charged out of his office, bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Lois! Kent! Get down to Dock 9 now! An explosion just blew out half the …"

"Got it, Chief!" yelled Lois, hastening for the elevator. "I'm on my way!" Good thing she was almost ready to leave anyway. But how aggravating to have to go alone! Again! She didn't know how it happened, but Clark just never seemed to be around in times of emergency. How he got as many Superman exclusives as he did, she'd never know.

She was still fuming by the time she had arrived at the docks, and it didn't help her mood to discover that she had missed Superman. He had already come and gone.

So it was that when she finally caught up with her partner in the middle of the afternoon that she stormed and raved, complaining that it was hard enough to satisfy Perry's unceasing demands for good stories without her partner being absent half the time. She was only partly mollified when Clark told her that he had obtained another exclusive from Superman about the dock explosion.

"Well, okay," she said grudgingly. "But you know Perry's been on the warpath lately, Clark, and I can't keep covering for you forever."

"I know," said Clark, "and thanks for what you've been doing, Lois."

Lois smiled suddenly, her mood changing. "That's all right," she said. "That's what partners are for … to cover for each other. Aren't you always telling me that?" She smiled up at her colleague, her gaze changing to one of speculation. "I didn't know you cook, Clark."

"Cook?" said Clark. "Well, yes, I do. What brought that up?"

"Um," said Lois, suddenly remembering how she had found out and not wanting to give away to Clark that she had been reading his messages. "I'll have to taste your chili someday," she said roguishly. "Shall I alert the fire department ahead of time?"

"Chili? I've never made chili," said Clark, puzzled. "Not that I can remember, any — ah! … uh, Lois, I'm sorry, I just remembered … I have to go and … make a phone call."

"Clark!!!" But he was gone.

Clark, why do you do this to me??? *How* do you do this to me? How did you make me care? I don't need you! I don't need a partner and I've never needed a partner and I'll go to the courthouse without you! Seething, Lois stalked to her desk and tore off a sheet from her notebook. "GONE TO THE COURTHOUSE!" she wrote.

Downstairs, she wasn't pleased to run into Cat Grant, who was returning from a late lunch. "Leaving so soon, Lois?" asked Cat. When Lois didn't reply she asked with a sly look, "Didn't Clark ever come back to sweep you into his arms and chase away your bad mood?"

"Sweep me into his arms???" squeaked Lois in fury. "I'd like to see him try!"

"Hmmm-hmm," Cat laughed throatily. "I would, too. Sweep *me* into his arms, that is."

"Just what is so great about Clark anyway??" said Lois crossly, still angry that he had been absent for such a large part of the day. "I don't know why anyone would want him to 'sweep her into his arms'!"

"Haven't you ever even *thought* about it?" asked Cat curiously.

Lois stood stock-still in the lobby, the image conjured by Cat's words leaving her momentarily without breath. "No," she said shortly when she could speak. She resolutely pushed the dizzying picture from her head and nodded with finality to Cat. "I have to go now." Cat laughed, shrugged, and, flinging her light wrap over her shoulders, hastened to catch the elevator.

Lois hadn't taken two steps from the Daily Planet building when her absent partner hailed her from across the street. "Sorry," he said when he'd caught up to her. "I was … I had to …"

Lois, uncomfortably aware of his physical presence in a way she never had been before, couldn't quite meet his eyes and just managed to gesture with her hand that there was no need to worry about it, all was forgiven, and they should go to the courthouse now.

By the time they reached the courthouse, she had recovered her equilibrium sufficiently to be able to engage in a vigorous debate over whether they had enough evidence to conclude that Congressman Barber had engaged in various nefarious misdeeds in the not-too-distant past. As they stepped out of the elevator on the eighth floor, Clark stopped abruptly and a pained expression crossed his face. "No, not again!" wailed Lois.

"I — I'm sorry, Lois, I have to …" Clark gestured vaguely with his hand and hurried away.

Lois stared after him angrily for a moment, then gritted her teeth and walked briskly after him. "Where are you off to this time, Clark Kent?" she muttered through clenched teeth. She turned a corner and was just in time to see him open the door and enter … the men's room. The men's room! The last thing she would have thought of! The letdown after the few minutes' buildup wrenched an involuntary laugh from her, and she was still smiling as she stationed herself across the door to await Clark's re-emergence.

Fifteen minutes later, she was no longer smiling. With a worried look, she accosted a man who had just come out. "Excuse me," she said, "could you see if the man in there is all right?"

The stranger looked at her blankly. "There's no one else in there," he said.

"Yes, there is," Lois insisted. "Could you just check …"

"There's no one else in there," the man repeated.

"Just check it, okay?" she snapped.

The man shrugged, and dived back into the restroom. "No one there," he reported. "I told you … hey, you can't go in there, lady!" Tossing a perturbed look over his shoulder to see if anyone else had noticed her brazen action, he followed her inside, pausing on the threshold while he held the door open cautiously. Lois was flinging open the doors to the stalls, peering into each one individually.

"He must be in here … he has to be … he's not," she concluded, having opened the last stall door.

"I told you!" said the stranger, not without satisfaction. "Hey, what're you lookin' outta the window for? He didn't go out that way … not unless he can fly!"

Lois examined the window, which was wide open. Raising herself up to peer outside, she looked carefully for a ledge, a rope, scaffolding, anything that could afford a purchase for a grasping hand and careful foot … nothing.

"Hey, what's the big deal anyway?" the stranger continued, "… he owe you money or something? I know a lawyer who can …"

Lois brushed past him, unheeding. Her heart was pounding as she repeated to herself the helpful stranger's words, "… unless he can fly, unless he can fly …" But Clark can't fly, only Superman can do that … Oh! Lois gasped with relief. Of course! Why didn't she think of this before? Superman must have picked Clark up and flown away with him. Yes, that was it, Superman took Clark somewhere … uh, why? Think, Lois, why would Superman do such a thing? And how would he know Clark would be in the men's room at that particular time? And how did Clark know Superman would be there to pick him up?

Well, it's obvious! Duh!! They must communicate by some kind of radio device!

Inexplicably relieved, Lois made her way down the hall and stationed herself where she could keep an eye on the men's room door without being seen. When Clark exited the restroom a short time later, she smiled knowingly and slipped away to the Records Department, where she greeted Clark innocently when he appeared, trying to look as if she had been sorting through grungy files the whole time, instead of staking him out … but …

Something was bothering her, nagging at the back of her mind. "Clark?" she said as they exited the building when the Records Department closed, "do you want to go to the Metro's softball game with me on Wednesday?"

Clark blinked. Really? You want to go with *me*? "Sure! Oh … uh, no, I can't. I'm going … I have to go … I have something I'm supposed to do that night."

Like, fly home to mom and dad? Lois swallowed, trying to still the disquiet thoughts whirling through her mind.

"Okay, some other time," she said, trying to keep her voice casual. Clark was looking at her closely now.

"Is everything okay, Lois?" he asked.

"Yes. Sure. Fine," she said. "I just remembered I have to go back to the Planet for something … something I forgot!" She whistled for a cab and dashed away, leaving Clark staring after her in puzzlement.

"Jimmy!!!" she shrieked as soon as she stepped out of the elevator into the newsroom. "Get me a list of every Superman sighting we had today. In fact, get me every Superman sighting since he came to Metropolis!"

"Whew!" said Jimmy. "I can get you the stuff from today, and you know we charted all his activities up until that big heat wave, but getting the stuff since then … that's a tall order! What's up?"

"Never mind, just give me what you can," said Lois, hunting feverishly through her purse for a marker. A profusion of images began tumbling though her mind. (Superman appearing in Metropolis soon after Clark arrived … Clark getting the first exclusive interview with Superman … )

Could this really mean what she was beginning to think it meant, or did Clark just have some kind of arrangement with Superman? (… Clark bursting open the door to the warehouse … Clark's strong arm firmly around her waist when the explosion "carried" them from danger …)

Lois began wading feverishly through all her own Superman sightings, trying to cross-reference them to the occasions when her partner had run out on her. She already knew, without checking further, that she had never seen Superman and Clark together at the same time, but she also knew that she had seen them both within minutes of each other, maybe even seconds. Was it possible that he could change clothes that quickly?

With a sick, certain feeling, Lois knew … if he's Superman … it's possible.

But is it beyond doubt? (… Clark smelling like smoke and fish after Superman rescued the burning boat off the coast of Maine … Martha saying "good work in Chile" after Superman made a dramatic rescue in that country … the dog acting so suspicious of Clark, just like dogs act toward Superman … Martha telling Clark to "drop by" on Wednesday, and Clark is "busy" on Wednesday …) No! Clark can't be Superman, he just can't be!!

Lois continued working on her self-appointed task, desperately trying to find evidence that would disprove her theory. She stayed in the office until her escalating feelings threatened to overcome her, then carried a mound of information home with her, continuing to pore over the documents and clippings long after she knew she had established beyond any doubt in her own mind that Superman and Clark were one and the same.

Lois paced back and forth in her apartment.

No, no, NO! It can't be true, tell me it isn't true!!

This can't be happening! It can't be true that there is no Superman, no perfect man to love and understand me, no good and kind and honest guy who's somehow above us all …

But she knew it was true. She remembered lying in Clark's arms in the taxi, dreaming of Superman and hearing his voice, then upon awakening, realizing it was just Clark.

But it was Superman, too — they were the same man. How could she not have noticed it before?

Lois clenched her teeth. You tricked me, Superman! She thought fiercely. You tricked us all — Perry, Jimmy, the Daily Planet — everyone.

Superman isn't what we thought he was. He's a liar. And a cheat!

And you, Kent! You fooled me. I thought you were a Kansas cornball, a rookie, my junior partner, and all this time you were a superhe — … a super — … a su — … a … rat!

Wait until I see you tomorrow — you're not going to know what hit you! By the time I get through with you, you're going to be sorry you ever left Kansas!

***

By morning, however, the advantages of keeping her own counsel had presented themselves to Lois and she decided that instead of telling Clark that she knew his secret and risk having him deny the whole thing, she would instead wait for the chance to catch him in the act and then publish proof of his dual identity to the world.

"I'm the best investigative journalist in this city — maybe on the whole East coast — and I missed the biggest scoop of my career," she fumed. (Funny how that thought had escaped her during her temper tantrum of the evening before — she had somehow been more upset by the thought that Clark had lied to her.)

Well, I'm going to change all that — I'm going to publish the inside story on Superman.

That Clark! He made a fool out of me! All this time I thought he was just a nobody, a hack nothing from nowhere — and he *let* me think it! Oooh, I'm so mad at him! Well, I'll show him! I'll expose his precious secret to the world and then he'll see that he can't get away with tricking me like that!

Getting tied up in a horrendous traffic snarl on the way to work exacerbated her dark mood, and within a few minutes of her arrival at the office, her fellow journalists were already giving her a wide berth. After bringing Lois more data on Superman sightings and nearly getting his head handed to him for his pains, Jimmy began hoping fervently for CK's appearance. Clark never seemed to mind Lois's moods and indeed was often successful in getting her to emerge from them. But this morning it was not to be. From the moment he arrived, Lois gave CK the cold shoulder, making it plain that he was included among those in her black books.

***

"Lois, where's Clark?" Perry barked one morning several weeks later.

"I don't know … or care!" Lois snapped without looking up from her terminal.

Perry pressed his lips together in displeasure. He had hoped that Lois and Clark would have resolved their differences by now, but the possibility of that occurring was beginning to look more and more remote, a fact that Perry noted with increasing grimness.

Perry had never found the right person to team with Lois Lane until Clark Kent had come to the Daily Planet. Partnering those two had been inspired! Slow to anger, slow to take offence, and well able to stand up to Lois and keep her from running roughshod over him, the boy had proved to be the perfect match for Lois, temperamentally and professionally. Their work together had been productive beyond Perry's wildest imaginings.

Perry had been dreaming of the Pulitzer that would be bestowed on his two top journalists and the resulting glory that would come to the Daily Planet, when with a cruel twist of fate, Lois had taken one of her sudden dislikes to Clark. Now Perry could see his dreams of fame and glory slipping away.

After Lois's terse reply to his question, he forbore to reprimand her, merely shaking his head in frustration. Raising his voice, he bellowed at Jimmy to page Clark and remind him of the staff meeting starting *right now*.

"He's on the South Side, Chief," yelled Jimmy. "He called in a Superman story a few minutes ago."

I'll bet he did, thought Lois.

She gathered her notes and filed into the conference room with the rest of the staff. Clark's appearance moments later brought a startled look from Jimmy, but Perry had apparently forgotten about the distance Clark had somehow managed to cover in such a short time and made no comment. Lois, however, found herself unable to keep silent. "That was quick," she remarked acidly. "What did you do, *fly*?"

Clark threw her a startled and somewhat apprehensive look, but was spared the necessity of replying when Perry sharply called her to order. He began asking each of his staff about ongoing stories. "Linda, whatcha got?" he asked.

"Superman," she said.

"You wish!" remarked Cat drily, causing a ripple of laughter. Lois glanced at Clark to see if he would react, but his face remained impassive.

"No way!" said Jimmy. "If anyone's 'got' Superman, it's Lois."

"Yes, I've noticed that he *does* seem to have a preference for her," said Stephanie, "… and I'm sure everyone knows how *she* feels about *him*!" She glanced at Clark to see if he had understood her hint that he had no hope with Lois — not with Superman for a rival.

Lois dropped her head, studying her notepad. How happy it would have made her to hear Stephanie say that a few weeks ago! That Superman had a preference for her! But now, now that she knew that the man who had a "preference" for her wasn't the wonderful man she had thought, that he was just that deceiver, that liar, that … that … Clark Kent …! Lois's pencil broke between her fingers.

"All right, all right, quiet!" Perry was saying sharply. "What about Superman?" he asked Linda.

"There's a growing movement to restrict his activities," she said. "Some feel that his vigilantism is setting a bad example for the young people in this country …"

"That's hogwash!" interrupted Jimmy. "Superman hasn't —"

"Jimmy!" said Perry sternly, "When I need your two cents I'll ask for it. Let Linda finish."

"I can't stand hearing him get trashed," grumbled Jimmy. "Someone has to defend him."

Lois was aware that several of the staff were looking at her, that Clark was watching her, too, all of them waiting no doubt for her to spring to Superman's defense. Well, those days of defending Superman were over! She maintained a stony silence, and after a minute, Clark looked away, staring down at his hands.

***

When she left the Planet building for lunch that afternoon, she was arrested in her progress by a voice behind her pronouncing her name. She knew that voice — Clark! He was going to try to talk to her again! She considered pretending not to hear him, but she knew from experience that it would only delay the inevitable confrontation. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face him.

"Lois," Clark's voice was sprightly, but his eyes betrayed his uncertainty. "I thought we could go to the courthouse together to check on that —"

"I'm not going to the courthouse," said Lois icily. "I'm going to lunch."

"Oh." Clark looked momentarily crestfallen, then brightened. "And who better to go to lunch with … than … your partner!" he said brightly. "We can stop at Smidden's Deli and research those records at the courthouse afterwards. And if you play your cards right, I'll even pay!"

"No one's asking you to buy my lunch for me!" she snapped, refusing to smile at his light-hearted teasing. She spun on her heel and marched away, tensing as she prepared for him to follow her. He didn't pursue her however, but stood in the street looking after her with a puzzled expression on his face.

***

Later that evening, Lois was tidying the bedroom when she heard the familiar whoosh that signaled Superman's arrival. She straightened, stiffening her spine. Darn these warm autumn evenings! She had been keeping her window closed lately, and had only opened it this afternoon to let in some fresh air. Now she was going to have to deal with a visit from *him*.

There was a light tapping sound, as if someone was knocking on her window. "Lois?" said a tentative voice. *His* voice. Sounding more like Clark in his hesitation than Superman.

How am I going to handle this? Quick, Lois, think!

Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and stepped determinedly into the living room. He was standing by the window with his arms folded over his chest in a typical Superman pose, watching her closely. Lois said nothing. "Hi," Superman said uncertainly.

"Hi." She wasn't going to give him any more than that.

"I … I'm sorry to drop in on you like this …" (Yeah. Like, when have you ever called first?) "… but I wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you at the fire today, and … and I wanted to make sure you didn't have any ill effects from … from smoke inhalation or anything."

Since Lois hadn't been anywhere near enough to the fire to be in danger from smoke inhalation, this excuse was so transparent as to be laughable. If she hadn't felt more like crying …

What you really mean, Clark, is that since you can't make time with me as yourself, you're coming to me as Superman. Hasn't it always been like that?

"I'm all right," she said aloud. Then, realizing that Clark still didn't have any idea that she knew of his masquerade, and recognizing also that she wanted to keep her knowledge to herself, at least for now, she said, "Thank you for asking," while trying to infuse her voice with some semblance of appreciation.

It wasn't enough, apparently. Superman's face fell, his hands dropping to his sides as the silence hung heavily around them.

They stood for several seconds without speaking, then Superman cleared his throat. "Well …" he said, clearly hoping for something more from her. She found she had nothing to add. He put one foot on the window sill in preparation for leaving. Turning his head at the last minute, he looked over his shoulder, then suddenly wheeled and walked swiftly up to her. "Lois, is there something wrong?" he asked, putting his hands on her shoulders and peering intently into her face. "You seem … upset …"

No, there's nothing wrong. Of course not … not at all. Just that you came here and made me love you by pretending to be something you're not. Just that you tricked me — all of us — into believing that you came here to make the world a better place for us … that you are good, and pure, and noble, a source of strength, and heroism …

Lois almost choked on her anger and disappointment. Forcing a brittle smile onto her lips she said, "No, I'm not upset … well, yes, I am, but …" She paused, then plunged ahead with a lie, "… it has nothing to do with you. It's … personal, *very* personal."

That stopped him. He didn't know what she meant and he was afraid to ask, as Lois had known he would be. He bowed his head. "If there's anything I can do … let Clark know and I'll come right away." He added as if the thought had just occurred to him, "… unless … is it something Clark could help you with? I'm sure he'd be glad to …"

"No! No, not at all," Lois said quickly. "It's fine, really. It's just very … personal. And now if you'll excuse me, I have some things to do."

Lois turned away abruptly. Superman said nothing more, but before he disappeared, Lois caught a glimpse of his reflection in the tea kettle on the counter. She drew in her breath sharply, clutching at her throat. That look he gave her … a world of longing and despair reflected in those brown eyes …! She choked, dashing away the tears that welled up in spite of herself. A month ago Lois would have committed unmentionable crimes to be on the receiving end of such a look from Superman, but now … knowing who he was and how he had deceived her …

She was glad that she had given him the cold shoulder … really glad.

After which, in manifestation of her gladness, she threw herself face down on the bed and indulged in a hearty cry.

***

During the next few days Perry kept a watchful eye on his two star reporters, shaking his head as the constraint continued between them. Following reestablishment of their partnership after the *last* major argument (what had caused that fight, anyway — a disagreement concerning Lex Luthor, wasn't it?) they had seemed to be more in accord than ever, and Perry had hoped that their recovery would be as quick this time, but as the days went by, he could see that it was not to be.

He thought at first that Lois's displeasure was a reaction to Clark's winning the Meriwether award while she didn't even get a nomination, but he recalled that her coldness had started the week before the nominations were even announced.

He took Clark aside once to try to find out what the problem was, and he was disappointed, although not altogether surprised, to learn that Clark didn't know. By Clark's own testimony he had tried repeatedly to talk to Lois, to ask what he had done to offend her, but she had refused to so much as speak to him. Perry could not offer any tips or words of advice to the young man, for Clark was better at handling Lois than anyone, and the fact that even he was at a loss to deal with her was a very bad sign indeed.

Even the advances of the young women in the office, who had begun to swarm Clark as soon as the coldness between the two reporters had been observed, failed to draw a spark from Lois, a point which caused great surprise and additional concern to Perry, since Lois had traditionally reacted violently and possessively to any sign of interest in Clark by any other women.

Perry's worries had traveled in a new direction, also, for Clark now appeared to be losing *his* edge, too — due perhaps to lack of attention to his work. Observing Clark closely, Perry began to notice his mysterious absences for the first time, absences that weren't entirely due to the demands of tracking down leads and interviewing sources. Perry resolved to take a harder line with Clark to bring him back up to his former level of performance.

***

Lois covertly watched Clark as he jumped up from his desk for the third time — Superman was having a busy morning, it seemed. He stammered an apology to the young blond who had been coyly asking for his help (can't Clark see though her simpering request??), then raced for the elevator. Lois briefly considered trying to follow him again, but abandoned the idea almost immediately … she had been forced to admit, after trying repeatedly to shadow him, that he was just too quick for her to be able to catch him in the act of changing into Superman. She was going to have to find some other way of exposing him.

She leaned back in her chair, tapping a pencil against her teeth while she tried to think of a way to do it. She bit down hard on her pencil as an idea began to form — what if Clark wears the Superman suit under his clothes? What if she just opened his shirt and exposed the Suit underneath —

No, there was something wrong with that scenario. If she were going to rip off Clark's clothing, there shouldn't be anyone else present … she should be alone with him in a dimly-lit room, with soft music …

No, no! Don't go there, Lois! She shook her head in perturbation at the direction her thoughts had taken her.

Quite a change from several weeks ago!

As the weeks had passed since her discovery, her initial rage and disappointment had begun to wear itself out and she had found herself softening toward Clark. Her dreams of revenge had gradually changed from visions of exposing him publicly into fantasies of telling him privately, after which he would humbly beg her to keep his secret and then become absurdly grateful and agree to … agree to … well, she wasn't sure just what, but somehow she found the image of an appreciative and appropriately humbled Clark Kent to be quite appealing.

"Kent, come back here!!" Perry's bellow interrupted Lois's musings just as Clark stepped onto the elevator. His stentorian command came too late, however, and the elevator doors closed behind Clark. "Aww, what in the name of Elvis … ! He's supposed to be working on the Canfield story," Perry grumbled to nobody in particular. "Jimmy! When Clark gets back, tell him I want to see him in my office right away!" He turned and started to stomp away.

"Uh, Perry, Clark went to check on the police investigation of those fires in the Hill District," Lois blurted out quickly. She drew in her breath. Why had she said that? "He has a lead that he's following up on," she amazed herself by continuing, faltering a little under Perry's piercing gaze.

"Well, okay, then," Perry said gruffly. "Jimmy, forget it!"

"Shur," said Jimmy.

Perry turned to Lois. "I thought you and Clark weren't working together anymore," he said.

"Well …," said Lois, "… we are."

Perry nodded with satisfaction and returned to his office, allowing a grin to split his face only after he had seated himself safely behind his desk. He didn't believe for one minute that Clark was chasing down a lead on Lois's Hill District story, but if Lois was covering for Clark, well, that was the best news he'd had in weeks! Maybe a thaw was beginning …

***

At her desk, Lois stared sightlessly at the computer screen. She didn't know what had prompted her to lie to Perry, why she had told him that she and Clark were working together again, but as soon as the words had left her mouth, she had felt a sense of release, like something wrong in her world had just been righted.

She had missed Clark in these past few weeks, missed him more than she would have thought possible, more — she realized, after she had set aside her anger long enough to be honest with herself — more than she missed Superman. Although it was the loss of Superman that she had felt more keenly in the beginning, it had come to her as a shock to find out how little difference it made in her life for him to be "gone". She had never really *had* a relationship with Superman, and his departure from her life had no real impact on it.

On the other hand, the loss of Clark — she realized to her somewhat tremulous surprise-she felt quite keenly. She missed him. She missed his solid, reassuring form quietly hovering in the background on their investigations; she missed his amused voice and teasing grin; she missed his input into her analyses, she missed walking to work with him and confiding in him, and — darn it! — she missed him in her dreams for the future!

When, Lois asked herself now, had Clark become such a fixture in her life? Why in her visions of the future did he always seem to be at her side?

She relaxed suddenly, leaning back in her chair. Did it really matter? She just knew that it felt so good to think of getting back with Clark again! She couldn't wait until he came back to the office — she would casually go over to his desk and start talking to him as if nothing had ever happened. He would be surprised, and then his face would light up the way it often did when she showed him some small attention, and then he would eagerly follow her lead and plunge into the investigation with her. And later they would talk, and maybe — she hadn't decided on this part yet — maybe she would tell him she knew his secret.

That Clark might not want her back never occurred to her — he had always been there for her, and, too, he had tried so hard to make up with her in these last few weeks. She knew that whenever she chose to let him into her life again, he would be waiting eagerly for her.

***

When Clark re-entered the newsroom an hour later, Lois observed him closely. He looked tired and his shoulders were sagging. Was it her imagination, or had he been looking like that a lot lately?

Before she could put her plan of letting Clark know they were partners again into action, her attention was caught by a small crowd gathering around the television in the newsroom. "What's going on out there?" Perry shouted from his office.

"Another fire in the Hill District, Chief," called Jimmy.

"Now, see!" said Lois, rising and hurrying over to the television. "Another fire! I just know that these fires aren't coincidences; there's something going on here!"

"Then you can ask Clark what he found out on that lead he was chasing down," said Perry drily.

"What?" Lois almost blushed when she remembered her earlier lie, and hurried to cover for it. "Oh, yes, that's right," she said, fervently hoping that Clark wouldn't come over to be questioned by Perry before she had a chance to fill him in on her lie. Turning to glance in Clark's direction, she was just in time to see him snatch up his jacket and dash for the elevator. Where was he off to? Oh, that's right, Superman would have to help put out that fire. She sighed, wondering if Perry would notice Clark's disappearance and blow his stack again.

She turned back to the television screen, speculating on how long it would be before Superman made his appearance. Ah! Just that long! He was there now, striding toward the firemen, who greeted his arrival with relief. Lois watched as he disappeared into the building, watched as he slowly, inexorably extinguished the fire, and as she watched, she felt a surge of feelings that had lain dormant for weeks.

"Look at that!" said Jimmy admiringly. "He put the whole thing out!" He turned and looked questioningly at Lois. "Do you really think those fires are arson, Lois?"

"Fat chance of getting charges to stick even if they arrest the culprit," said Linda before Lois could answer. "Once Superman's involved, that's the end of the case!"

"What are you talking about?" asked Lois in amazement.

"There have been trials all over the country where the case has been lost solely because of Superman's involvement," Linda replied. "Some of the suspects are getting off by their lawyers claiming that proper police procedures weren't followed, or that Superman's not a credible witness, or that he's destroyed evidence so completely that it doesn't offer proof that the suspect was really involved in the crime. I've been compiling a list … should have it ready for the Sunday edition of the paper."

"Are you out of your *mind*??" Lois flung up her hands as her voice rose on the last word. "Why would you print something like that??"

"It's called *news*, Lois. Ever hear of it?"

"I can't beLIEVE you'd even think of printing something like that! This is *Superman* we're talking about!"

"So?"

"So … !! So look at all the good he's done! Why would you print something that will diminish in any way the respect the American people — that *all* people — have for him?"

"Lois, if his involvement in criminal cases is allowing clever attorneys to get their clients acquitted, then the public has a right to know."

Lois snorted. "Like you care if 'the public' *knows*! All you want is a story, with your name above it!"

"Whhoooo! If she's this upset about your 'spoiled trial' story, it's a good thing she hasn't seen the story you're working on about the blunders Superman's been making lately, Linda," said Roger, lounging with hands in pockets in a posture that reminded Lois irresistibly of her absent partner.

Lois bristled. "Blunders??" she repeated. "Superman doesn't make *blunders*!"

"What sandtrap have *you* been hiding your head in, Lois?? He's made mistakes at a number of car accidents — taking people to the hospital who shouldn't have been moved, people who later died, and —"

"If you're talking about that accident on I-60 — ! Those people were fatally injured! They would have died anyway!"

"Others disagree. But that's not the only incident. There was the explosion on —"

"Perry's never going to let you print that!" said Lois furiously.

"… the docks, and there was that incident at Lex Laboratories," Linda continued as if she hadn't been interrupted.

"Poor Superman," said Jimmy. "I guess he's feeling pretty bad about all that. You can see it in the way he walks. And there have been less and less Superman sightings, too —"

"Fewer and fewer," murmured Linda.

"… anyway, he hasn't been around as much lately, so I think he's kinda layin' off for awhile —"

"… and just as well," said Roger. "He's too dangerous to let loose if he's not in control! He needs to get his act together before he endangers the public with the kind of mistakes he's been —"

"**What are we talking about here!**" Lois's voice squeaked. "This is *Superman*!!! Think of all the good he's done for so many people … for all of us! And why? Does he ask for anything in return? Does he *get* anything? No! And yet he does it, day after day, week after week — drops whatever he's doing and rushes off to rescue the ungrateful people who want to put him in the pillory! Receiving no reward except symbolic keys to the city and an occasional pat on the back!

"How long do you think a man can keep doing something like that? Because he *is* a man, you know! He has needs just like everyone else! Do you think he doesn't get tired, or discouraged? Do you think he doesn't have a life? Do you think *you* could drop whatever you were doing at any time of day or night to rescue strangers, people who don't mean anything to you, or wouldn't mean anything to you if you weren't such a warm, caring, good, kind, decent —" Lois choked. " — It wouldn't be so bad if he were some kind of unfeeling robot," she continued when she could speak again. "If he weren't a human, if he didn't need love and companionship and — !"

She could not go on. Disregarding the astonished stares of her office mates, she hurried over to her desk with her head down, snatching her coffee mug and holding the cold vessel to her lips with shaking hands.

"What's with her?" asked Linda.

"I guess she's a little upset about Superman," said Roger. "It's too bad he wasn't here to listen to her speech. I think the guy could use a pep talk."

"Yeah," said Jimmy. "His butt's shur been draggin' lately."

"Where's Kent?" said Perry's voice. "Oh, he's probably at the Museum of Fine Arts — at least, he'd better be there! He's supposed to cover Lex Luthor's unveiling of the Mondrian paintings that he's puttin' on display at the museum. It's goin' to be bigger than a Memphis hootenany on Elvis's birthday — even the Channel 5 news team is gonna be there."

Hearing Perry's words, Lois raised her head in alarm. What if Clark couldn't make it to the unveiling in time? What if his Superman duties prevented him from attending, thereby incurring the further wrath of Perry? She set her mug down hastily and snatched up her briefcase. She would go to the museum, too, so she could cover for him if he never made an appearance!

***

Unluckily, Lois had barely entered the door into the museum when a passer-by snagged her dress with the tip of his umbrella, tearing her skirt at the seam. Muttering imprecations, she retreated to the ladies' room, where she hastily fastened the skirt with a safety pin. When she straightened, she was just in time to see in the reflection of the paper towel holder, a tall, attractive woman buttoning her jacket over a large green crystal suspended by a gold chain around her neck. Lois gathered her belongings and hurried out of the rest room, wondering why someone would wear such a large ornament and then hide it under her clothing.

She made her way to the museum's conference room, which was just beginning to fill. She had no difficulty finding a seat, and after a moment's hesitation, she set her briefcase on the chair next to her own, reserving it for Clark. As the minutes passed and the room began to fill up, she drummed her foot impatiently on the floor. Clark better hurry — she didn't know how long she was going to be able to hold this seat for him. Already she was beginning to receive angry glances, looks which she swept aside with a peevish toss of her head.

She ran her fingers over the edge of her steno pad just as the attractive woman she had noticed earlier took her place near the front of the room. She remembered the woman's name now — Mrs. Cox. She was Lex Luthor's special assistan-ouch! Drawing her finger back in pain, Lois gritted her teeth in annoyance at the sight of fresh blood. A paper cut — how aggravating! She put the finger into her mouth and absently began to suck —

— and sat bolt upright.

Oh, my gosh! A paper cut!!

Clark got a paper cut when we were in Smallville! He isn't Superman — he can't be!!

Clark isn't Superman! My Superman still exists! That noble creature isn't a liar, didn't deceive me, isn't a real man!

… so that makes Clark … what? Just a sweet guy from Kansas …

Hard on the heels of that thought came a deep — and surprising — disappointment. Just when she had become used to the idea that her very human partner was also the super man she had worshiped for months, just when she had merged the images of the two men she lov — admired most, the whole scenario came crashing down around her.

She sucked in her breath as a wave of anger hit her. Drat that man — those men — were they never going to give her any peace?

She cast her eyes around the room in an attempt to distract herself from her agitating thoughts and her gaze was caught by Mrs. Cox standing sedately at the front of the room.

That woman again — why is she hiding that large gem beneath her jacket? What kind of stone is that anyway — too pale to be an emerald, isn't it?

Lois crossed and uncrossed her legs restlessly as Lex Luthor entered the now-crowded room and moved forward to speak to the attractive woman who for some reason was hiding a sparkling boulder under her clothing.

Funny, you'd think she'd want to show off a rock that size. Look at Lex — he's so handsome and debonair! I don't understand why Clark hates him so much. Probably jealous. No, that's not it — he says he *knows* things about Luthor that he can't tell me.

That's ridiculous — what can that country hack know that I don't — "*Country hack*?" Yeah, Lois, that "country hack" just won the Meriwether award for excellence in journalism! Not exactly a hack, huh?

Okay, but I still don't believe there's anything wrong with Lex. Clark *must* be jealous — like he's jealous of Superman-no, no, that's not right-Clark *is* Superman! Oops, no he isn't!

Or is he?

I had it all figured out — Clark's disappearances coinciding with Superman's appearances, the whole bit. Was the evidence pointing to the wrong conclusion?

Frustrated, Lois uncapped her pen crossly, taking another quick look behind her. Still no sign of Clark. Her thoughts went inexorably back to the Clark — Superman problem.

Well, of course Clark isn't Superman! I knew it! How could I possibly have thought they were the same person? Superman is so kind and caring, and Clark is … Clark is …

Clark persuaded Perry to pull strings to get Mrs. Platt and Amy back on board the Prometheus — why didn't *I* think of doing that? I've been in Metropolis longer than Clark and I could have pulled a few strings myself — if I'd thought of it. But I didn't. *He* did.

… and when Clark's apartment was robbed, did he turn the thief over to the police? *I* would have — I'd have pressed charges and made sure they stuck! Did Clark do that — did he do what any normal person would have done? No! He got the boy a job and took him under his wing — and now he's really straightening that kid out! (Here Lois felt a deep and unaccustomed rush of shame when she remembered how callously she had acted toward Clark during that whole incident. Her partner had just been robbed, her friend had lost some of his most precious possessions, and all she had been able to think about was how she could use his misfortunes in a story.)

Lois swallowed, not liking to remember her behaviour on that occasion.

Okay, Lois, so Clark is kind, but Superman is so … so … the way he watches over me, watches over Metropolis …

Yeah? What about the way Clark watches over *me*, like when Barbara Trevino was trying to murder me — okay, so I thought he was just trying to get close to me — well, I was wrong about that! I know that now!

… okay, okay, Lois … So Clark is kind and caring, too. But not like Superman! Who could be as kind and caring as Superman? Who could drop whatever he's doing in his life at a moment's notice and dash off to rescue complete strangers?

Wait a minute — does Superman even *have* a life? What do I really know about him, anyway? If he's like Clark, if he does have another life, friends and a career, an existence that's interrupted by every cry for help — then it's like I told Linda and the others in the office — he's a much greater guy than we'd ever dreamed!

Her lower lip trembled as she remembered the moment when she had finally realized that Clark-as-Superman was far more heroic in a quiet, understated way than the dashing superhero that she had created in her dreams. And now she found out that he wasn't Clark after all! Why was that thought suddenly so disappointing?

Wait! She couldn't think about this now — she couldn't let herself get so upset that she couldn't keep her mind on her work! Determined to move her thoughts away from Clark, she looked again at the attractive woman standing in front of the room, Lex's assistant.

I wonder what that crystal is. Emerald-no. Diamond-of course not. Amethyst, topaz, ruby …

As Lois tried to distract herself from thoughts of Clark and Superman, she nevertheless found herself looking impatiently toward the door. She was rewarded at last with the sight of Clark crossing the threshold. "It's about time, Kent," she grumbled under her breath — and then gasped when Clark suddenly bent over double, his face twisted in pain. She sprang to her feet, heedless of the impatient glares she received from members of the audience turning their heads in an attempt to see around her.

Lois fixed her eyes on Clark, who was grasping the wall for support, his fingers scrabbling at the door in a frantic attempt to open it again so he could escape to … to where? To the men's room? What's the matter with Clark? Is it food poisoning? Appendicitis? The flu?

At least this settles the question of whether he's Superman. Now I know he's *not*, because Superman doesn't get sick. Nothing can hurt Superman!

… except …

… what …

That meteorite that Trask said would kill Superman … What was it called …? Kryptonite. A crystal. When I interviewed Bureau 39 employees they said it was a …

… green …

… a …

… Lex's assistant, and Clark doesn't trust Luthor …

Clark …! NO!!!!

A sob rose in her throat. The ceremony had started and members of the audience didn't seem to notice Lois pushing her way to the back of the throng. She reached Clark in time to prop him up while she turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, supporting him as they stumbled out of the room together. Glancing behind her, she saw that this little charade had drawn the attention of Mrs. Cox, whose interested gaze had followed Lois's progress to the door.

We have to be careful, Clark …

Lois helped him into the adjoining room, which happened to be empty at that moment. "Clark," she said with a touch of fear in her voice, "are you okay?"

"I'm … better …" he gasped.

Lois looked doubtfully at his white face and guided him to a bench, sinking down and seating herself next to him while supporting him with her arm.

In spite of her concern, an overwhelming inquisitiveness took hold of her and she quickly unfastened two buttons on Clark's shirt, slipping her hand beneath it and running her fingers lightly over his chest. She couldn't repress a grim smile when her sensitive fingertips recognized the outline of the familiar Superman emblem. It's him! She thought triumphantly. It *is*! I finally have proof!

She glanced at his face to gauge his reaction to her discovery, but either he hadn't noticed, or he was too sick to care.

His failing condition brought her attention back to the matter at hand. "You look terrible," she told him frankly. "Can I get you anything? Water …?" She half rose, then drew in her breath sharply when she saw that Mrs. Cox had left the conference room and was striding briskly toward them, her high heels clicking on the tile floor. Clark's reaction to the Kryptonite was immediate — he bent double with a low moan of pain.

Lois looked around her, desperately seeking a place to hide. She couldn't let Mrs. Cox see that Clark was affected by the Kryptonite … too late … there was no place to go, and she doubted if Clark would be able to walk anyway. Lois threw her arms around Clark, hiding his gaping shirt and propping up his sagging body. In an attempt to make it look like she and Clark had stolen away for a moment of passion, she pressed her mouth against his face, recoiling slightly at the icy feel of his lips.

"Ohhhh, Clark, Clark …!" she moaned softly and — she hoped — convincingly, while trying to listen for Luthor's personal assistant. The clicking of Mrs. Cox's heels ceased, as if the woman had paused on the threshold, and Lois felt Clark sinking further in her arms. He cried out in pain and Lois clung to him tightly, moaning more loudly to cover the sounds of his distress. "Ohhh, Clark …!" she groaned again, pressing her face against his and seeking to wrap her body around him, as much in an attempt to warm him as to shield him from Mrs. Cox's penetrating gaze.

She heard a soft, scornful laugh behind her, then the footsteps again, receding gradually into the distance. Lois heaved a sigh and partially released Clark, straightening as he began to recover his equilibrium.

She heard the sounds of the Channel 5 news team entering the hall, and looked around in annoyance. "Hi, Lois," said the cameraman, recognizing her. She gave him a half wave when he walked several steps further into the room.

This was her big opportunity, the chance she had been waiting for for weeks — to expose Clark as Superman. All she had to do was pull open his shirt — in his weakened state, she was sure he wouldn't stop her — and the cameraman would do the rest.

Yet somehow she found herself moving her body to shield Clark's open shirt from the view of the news team, found herself surreptitiously fastening the two buttons again. "I guess the unveiling's next door," said the cameraman laconically, retreating into the other room.

Lois drew a breath of relief, realizing in that instant that not only was she not going to expose Clark, but she had *never* had any serious intention of exposing Clark — otherwise, why hadn't she told anyone — like Perry, at least?

"Are you feeling any better …?" Lois began, then gasped in alarm as the sound of clicking came to her ears once more. Mrs. Cox was coming back!

Lois threw her arms around Clark again, bracing herself for the icy feel of his cold face when she pressed her lips against him. But to her surprise he wasn't cold this time; he was warm.

Yes, he was warm. And fully alive to Lois's actions.

Clark sucked in his breath in surprise at Lois's seemingly passionate embrace, then wrapped his arms around her, crushing her to his chest. Caught off guard by the intensity of his action, a tremor ran through her body, and she felt her lips quiver under his insistent mouth. He moved his head, trailing kisses across her cheek until he buried his face in her hair, murmuring her name. *He* was the one supporting *her* now, for an overpowering languor had swept over her, and she would have fallen had he not held her tightly.

***

Clark was in heaven. His relief when the tearing pain of the Kryptonite receded, coupled with the bliss of having the woman he adored suddenly plaster her body against him and cover his face with kisses, had caused an immediate physical response, and without pausing to question this gift from the gods, he returned her embrace with all the pent-up passion of the past weeks and months of frustration.

For weeks he had been on the outs with Lois — he had never found out why — and now, inexplicably, Lois had appeared out of the mists of pain to help him escape from that room, and had suddenly and even more inexplicably begun to kiss him.

He began whispering endearments against her ear while his hands moved restlessly over her back, up her shoulders, and into her hair.

She was making soft sounds of pleasure that drove him wild, egging him on to deepen his kisses, to explore her mouth with sharp thrusts of his tongue. A low moan escaped him.

Lois clung to him, amazed at how he was trembling, amazed at how he was making *her* tremble …

And then he stopped. And pushed himself away, raising his head with that far-away expression on his face. "Lo —" he began huskily. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Lois, I'm sorry," he said. "I … I have to go … and …" His voice trailed off and he pushed himself reluctantly to his feet. "I … have to … make a phone call …"

"Wait!" said Lois, "You don't have to —"

"I'm sorry," Clark repeated, rushing from the room.

"… make excuses anymore," Lois finished. "I know who you are." She looked around the empty room and sighed. Suddenly remembering what had precipitated the passionate exchange of caresses, she jumped to her feet and ran to the doorway, searching the halls for signs of Mrs. Cox. Lex's personal assistant was nowhere in sight, but Lois *did* spot a member of the Channel 5 news team pacing restlessly back and forth in the hall, her high heels clicking restlessly on the tile floor.

So that's who … no wonder Clark wasn't affected by the Kryptonite this time-it wasn't Mrs. Cox … so there wasn't any Kryptonite!

I wonder why she's carrying that Kryptonite — it's good insurance, I suppose — for a criminal! So what's she intending to do — rob a bank?

On the heels of that sarcastic thought came the sounds of muffled screams from the direction of the room where the unveiling was taking place.

Oh, my gosh — don't tell me I was right! Oh, no, they're calling for Superman — good thing he was called away on some other emergency — don't want to expose him to that Kryptonite! But I'd better call the police …

Lois ran down the hall, but before she had reached the bank of pay phones in the lobby, a phalanx of policemen had entered the museum and jogged swiftly toward the conference room.

In the excitement that followed, after the subduing by the authorities of the men who had attempted to steal the newly-loaned paintings, Lois managed to snare an interview with Inspector Henderson.

"How did the police manage to respond so quickly?" she asked curiously. "They were here almost as soon as the robbery was first attempted."

"We were tipped off that this was going to happen," said Henderson in his bored voice. "We got a call from — who called us, Pete?" he asked a burly plainclothes man.

The burly man consulted a notepad. "A guy by the name of Clark Kent," he said.

Henderson raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Well, tell Kent we said thanks," he told Lois. "And I want to see him down at the station to explain how he knew about it!"

"You can read about it in the Daily Planet," snapped Lois, speaking, however, with a confidence she did not feel. Clark would never be able to say publicly what he had seen or heard with his enhanced senses that had prompted him to make that phone call.

After gathering enough information to allow her to write her story, and waiting around for awhile to see if Clark would return (he didn't), Lois returned to her apartment to write the article and send it to Perry.

Her article finished, Lois awaited Clark's appearance at her apartment with rising impatience. He *was* going to come, wasn't he? They had to talk about him being Superman and about … about … well, they had to talk about what had happened in the museum.

She telephoned him, but apparently he wasn't at home, or at least, he wasn't answering the phone. "Come on, Clark," she said through gritted teeth, after getting his answering machine for the third time, "where are you?" She paced around the room, waving her arms angrily. She wanted to see him *right now*!

"Come on, Kent, get your butt over here," she muttered. "We need to talk about this."

But she knew it wasn't *talk* that she wanted — not *just* talk, anyway. She had realized this afternoon, when she had spoken up in defense of Clark to Perry, and then of Superman to her colleagues, just how much she really cared about Clark — both of him.

What she hadn't realized *then*, however, was how much she *wanted* him. She wanted to feel his chest pressed tightly against her body, to feel his lips on her face and his voice murmuring in her ear, to experience again those delicious sensations that had coursed through her body at the sound and sight and touch of him. *That* was what she wanted!

How was this possible? She had thought those feelings were gone forever when the fascinating superhero vanished from her life. She had thought Clark meant no more to her than a friend — a very good friend, her *best* friend, but just a friend, nonetheless.

Lois was listening so fiercely for Clark's knock at the door that she missed the swish sound at her window entirely. Hearing a noise behind her, she turned with a gasp of alarm. "S-Superman!" she exclaimed, involuntarily using his sobriquet.

"I'm sorry if I scared you, Lois," said Superman, folding his arms across his chest in typical superhero style, "but I've —"

He stopped abruptly as Lois ran across the room and flung herself at him, hugging him tightly. "Where have you been?" she asked. "I've been waiting for you!"

"Uh —" Superman choked, unable to continue. His traitorous body had responded instantly to her embrace, and the memory of the caresses they had exchanged earlier added fuel to his desire, making it difficult for him to maintain his usual air of distant formality.

Lois laid her head against his chest. "Ohh, Clark," she sighed.

Superman stiffened. Clark???

What did she mean? Did she mean "Clark" as in, she wanted to talk *about* Clark, or did she mean …

He gulped. Not that! She couldn't mean that!

"Clark?" he repeated cautiously.

"Mmmm," said Lois enigmatically, running her hands seductively over his back. "We have to talk, Clark," she added, raising her head to look into his eyes. "About this afternoon —"

Superman jerked away. "I have to go," he said in a strangled voice, edging away from her.

Lois stared open-mouthed as he stepped quickly toward the window and prepared to depart. "Wait —" But she was talking to an empty room. She laughed uncertainly, then shrugged her shoulders. "Second time today. I guess that's what it's like being around a super hero — he may have to leave at a moment's notice at any time," she said aloud.

Sighing, she drifted to the sofa and sat down to await his return.

***

Clark flew to his favorite rock in the Himalayas and flopped down with his cape wrapped around him.

She knows — Lois knows!

— and it's killing me!

He put his head in his hands and groaned. The misery of the last few weeks, which had been lifted by the surprising events of the afternoon, settled on him again. He had been euphoric when Lois started kissing him — astonished, but euphoric. With the mists of pain from the Kryptonite exposure just beginning to fade, he hadn't paused to conjecture why the sudden change of heart in the woman he had almost despaired of ever winning — he had seized the opportunity and returned the caresses with heartfelt gladness.

Later, after he had called the police to warn them of what he had super-overheard about the impending burglary at the museum, he hadn't had the courage to return to Lois, fearing that the few minutes of happiness had been an illusion, another of Lois's ruses, dreamed up to further one of her wild schemes.

Unable to face the prospect that Lois's attentions hadn't been sincere, he had returned to his apartment, where he had paced the floor for hours in a state of wildly vacillating hopes and fears. He had finally decided to confront Lois — as Superman — and gently and tactfully extract from her just why she had gone after Clark in that manner. He had spun into his Superman outfit and flown to her apartment with his heart in his throat.

Hardly knowing what to say, he had begun speaking at random — to be interrupted by Lois flinging herself at him and wrapping him in a passionate embrace. Before he could collect his scattered wits and figure out how to respond to her, she had betrayed that she knew he was Clark.

A thought that made him ache.

It explained her amorous behavior.

She had found out somehow and that's why she had the sudden change of heart toward him.

How did she find out?

He thought back to the events leading up to her unprecedented behavior. When she led him out of the museum conference room and sat with him on the bench — had she or had she not opened his shirt? If she had, she would have seen the Suit. He closed his eyes and tried to remember. Yes, he was certain she had done so. So that's when she found out. And she had begun kissing him right after that.

No wonder she had kissed him with such passion. She finally had what she wanted — she had Superman.

He groaned and rubbed his hands over his face.

He tried to put a more favourable construction on events: at least she hadn't spurned Superman when she found out he was only Clark. At least she hadn't decided that Superman wasn't good enough for her.

And she wasn't going to expose him … she wasn't going to publish Superman's real identity — at least, she had had the opportunity when the Channel 5 news team was there and she hadn't taken it. She didn't *act* like she was going to publish it. And that was what he had feared most about her finding out, wasn't it? Wasn't it?

He tried to cheer himself with these reflections.

But it didn't work.

He thought of all the times Lois had belittled him, Clark, or put him down. Or just plain ignored him.

Now that she knew he was Superman, she would probably endow him with a lot of noble qualities that would be impossible to live up to and would hero-worship him just like she had hero-worshiped Superman. And still have no idea who he really was. And when the glamour associated with being around "Superman" wore off and she was stuck with the Kansas farmboy … what then?

He sighed.

Why did he feel powerless to walk away from Lois? What was it about her that made all other women seem so pallid in comparison — so insipid … so … dull?

How did she manage to make him feel so alive? Rousing him to fury one minute, then to amusement or — admit it, Kent — adoration the next, his feelings had run the gamut of the emotional spectrum since he had met her.

He knew that others wondered why he stuck to Lois in spite of her tantrums, that they thought him foolish to put up with her, but he really didn't mind her bad moods or uncertain temper. In truth, he loved her quick temper and sharp tongue. To be able to feel *that* deeply, to be able to get so passionately involved with life to get *that* angry — this wasn't a quality that Clark merely put up with — it was a trait that he felt a deep, unexpressed admiration for.

Clark thought back to the first days of their acquaintance. He had been attracted to Lois from the moment he saw her, and her complete rejection of him, instead of angering or discouraging him, had served only to pique his interest. Her attempts to put him down, and especially her assigning him the status of *typical male*, had amused him. He loved the passion she displayed when she lost her temper and he had to admit that sometimes he deliberately provoked her just so he could enjoy watching the fireworks. He hadn't known her for very many days before he knew that he desperately wanted this fascinating and imperious woman to be a part of his life.

But Lois wasn't in agreement with him on *that*, as she lost no opportunity of informing him.

As he had become ever more discouraged during the past few months, Clark had told himself many times that he should look for another girl. And he had tried (well, not very hard!) — but …

… why did he, as Superman, feel more at home with this exciting and intriguing woman than with anyone else he had ever met? Why did he feel that she, and only she, could accept his alien powers — *love* him for the outsider that he, deep down inside, always believed himself to be?

He sighed again. And why wasn't her love for Superman enough?

"Because she doesn't really *love* Superman!" his heart cried out. She has no idea who he really is! She's put him on a pedestal — made an icon of him, a paragon that Clark can't possibly live up to. No man could!

He had wanted her to love Clark. Clark, the ordinary guy and Clark the man who wasn't quite … normal. But she never could see the ordinary guy. Until she found out he was Superman.

So maybe she just wasn't the woman for him. He had been so certain that she was the one, but … maybe not. Maybe he should start looking around — go somewhere else, start fresh in a new city …

He rose tiredly to his feet.

Where to now? He didn't feel like going home. He'd fly around the world and see if anyone needed Superman.

***

Lois arrived first at the office the next morning, tired from keeping vigil half the night for Clark's return. She had left several messages on his answering machine, then had curled up around the telephone and gone to sleep at last.

Initially she had been a little worried at Clark's defection, and had conjured all manner of explanations for it, most of which involved the catastrophic termination of their relationship before it even began, but had breathed a sigh of relief when she found out about Superman's heroic exploits that had taken place all over the world throughout most of the night. She had soothed her fears by telling herself that he hadn't called because he was out doing his super hero thing — it was as simple as that.

But my, my, he *was* a busy little fellow, wasn't he?

Lois poured herself a cup of coffee and impatiently awaited Clark's arrival. Seated at her terminal several minutes later, she finally heard his voice. When he didn't come over to his desk immediately, she half-rose in her chair to see what was keeping him — and almost fell back into her seat again. Stephanie! Clark was talking to her and … and … *smiling*!

*Smiling*! How could he? How could he stand there talking to another woman so casually on the advent of the most momentous occasion of their relationship?

Making strange sounds under her breath, she pushed her chair back forcefully and strode over to the engrossed couple, noting grimly that Stephanie was patting Clark's chest with one hand — was there no limit to that woman's shame??

"Clark!" she said sharply, "we need to talk about a follow-up to the story on yesterday's museum incident."

Stephanie opened her mouth in annoyance, then after glancing at Lois's face, she closed it again and prepared to beat a hasty retreat.

"Okay," said Clark, avoiding Lois's eyes. He looked down at his coffee mug, examining it closely. Lois studied his averted face, observing the unhappy set of his mouth.

"See you later, Clark," said Stephanie loudly.

"Sure," said Clark, walking toward his desk with his head down, still avoiding Lois's gaze, still intent on inspecting his coffee.

Lois looked after him with a stunned expression. So she had been right the first time — he *was* avoiding her. Well, she wasn't going to stand for this — not for one second! One minute he was kissing her like … like he meant it, and the next he was running away and *not* coming back. That type of behavior was standard for a slime like Claude, and Lois could think back to a time when she would have expected the same from Kent (a good-looking guy like him, obviously popular with the ladies …), but she knew better now. Clark wouldn't *do* that — no, not that old-fashioned Kansas farmboy!

And she wasn't going to let him get away with it — huh-uh — she had a word or two to say to Clark Kent!

She marched over to his desk in typical Lois fashion and thrust some papers in his face. "This is my take on who was behind yesterday's museum robbery attempt," she said. "I think it was Lex Luthor. Probably some insurance scam, since it was his own painting that was to be stolen." Swiftly she told Clark about Mrs. Cox and the Kryptonite.

Clark nodded his agreement to everything she said, but he still wouldn't look at her.

Lois took a deep breath. "And this is my latest article on the fires in the Hill District. Take a look at it and see if there's anything you want to add."

Clark looked up at her, startled. "I'm not working on that story," he said.

"You are now," said Lois. "I told Perry you were working on it when you ran off yesterday — and, incidentally, I pulled your buns out of the fire — Perry wasn't too happy with you. I'm coverin' for ya, partner." Clark opened his mouth to thank her, but remembering that she was only being this nice to him because she had found out he was Superman, he shut it again, and looked away. "So tell me what you think," prompted Lois when she saw that he wasn't going to answer her.

"I — uh, okay." Clark dropped his eyes to the paper in front of him. He read through the article once, then again more slowly, forcing himself to concentrate the second time so he could actually get some meaning out of the words. "Okay," he said again, handing it back to her without quite meeting her eyes. "It's all right."

"So you think I'm on the right track in believing that the Bridge Court fire was arson?"

"I guess so."

"And that it's related to the other fires in the Hill District?"

"Yeah."

"And that they're all arson?"

"Uh-huh."

"And that it may be a plot to devalue property in that section of town?"

"Yes."

Lois sighed in exasperation. "So a conspiracy of local businessmen, sanitation engineers, and former beauty queens will be able to snap up valuable property at fire sale prices to sell to the Martians when they open their salons for toe-tattooing?"

What? Clark jerked his head up and met her eyes for the first time. He looked away again immediately, his brow furrowing in his most determined frown.

Lois put her hands on her hips.

Cut it out, Kent! What reason do *you* have to be mad? *I'm* the one who was lied to! By all rights I should be putting my hands around your throat and strangling you (… and then running my hands up the back of your neck and plunging my fingers into your thick hair — oops, don't go there, Lois.)

Impatient to resolve matters between them, she moved around his desk and stood behind him. "I want to talk to you," she said, placing a proprietary hand on his muscular shoulder.

Clark took a breath. He was still upset, but when she stood so close to him and touched him like that — well, he couldn't help feeling a thrill of pleasure. Pleasure that heightened when her hand slipped up his shoulder to where it joined his neck and began rubbing and massaging him gently. With an effort, he suppressed a murmur of satisfaction. "Lois —" he began, clearing his throat. Then his head jerked up into his listening attitude. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said. "I have to … to …"

"Return a video?" said Lois helpfully.

He twisted and looked up at her, slightly open-mouthed, as he realized that he didn't have to make excuses any more — she *knew*! Meeting her eyes, he nodded fractionally, then rose and dashed from the newsroom.

Gritting her teeth in frustration, Lois returned to her desk to wait for his return, but to her rising irritation, that pattern continued throughout the day. Every time she tried to talk to him, he would excuse himself and run away. Suspecting that he was deliberately avoiding her, she finally decided that if she wanted to talk to *Clark*, she'd have to approach *Superman* in public when he'd have a hard time ignoring her.

She tracked him down when he was helping to put out a fire on 47th Street. "Superman," she called loudly after the last flame had been extinguished and he was filling in the firemen on the conditions in the still-smoldering building. He couldn't pretend that he hadn't heard her, not with his super hearing! A subtle quirk of his brow told her that he *had* heard her, but he didn't remove his gaze from the fireman who was speaking. Fortunately for Lois, several of the men and women surrounding him looked her way, forcing him to acknowledge her presence.

"Excuse me," Lois said to the group gathered around the super hero, "Superman *owes* me this interview." Smiling brightly for the benefit of the curious onlookers, she put her hand firmly on Superman's arm and led him away from the assembled firefighters.

Clark allowed himself to be towed away, maintaining his impassive Superman expression with difficulty. He was reflecting gloomily that Lois would never have gone to this much trouble to talk to "Clark", not before she knew he was Superman.

"What do you want, Lois?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest. He couldn't look her directly in the eye.

"I *want* you to talk to me!" said Lois.

"We don't have anything to talk about," said Clark, frowning.

Lois looked up at him, her eyes narrowing as she noted his rigid posture and the stubborn set of his jaw. She was going to have to resort to high-pressure tactics. "Clark," she said sweetly, "if you don't stop avoiding me, I'm going to write an article telling everyone that you're Superman."

"You wouldn't do that," he said with more confidence than he felt. "You wouldn't expose Superman."

"Oh, wouldn't I?" retorted Lois. "Read about it in tomorrow's Daily Planet!"

"But … that's blackmail, Lois!" Clark protested.

"So?"

"So, you can't do that!"

"You know how to stop me …" she said.

Strange, this isn't how Lois would usually treat Superman. This is more like how she treats … well … me. She doesn't act like she's going to go into that hero-worshiping mode. That's good. Makes a nice change. But still …

He sighed. "Lois. What do you want to talk about?"

"About … us! About what happened yesterday!"

" — I have to go now. Someone's calling for help."

"But —"

He blasted into the sky, trying not to feel pleased by the look of disappointment she shot after him. He shouldn't be glad that she was showing him so much attention — he was through with her. He never wanted to speak to her again. Really.

Returning to the Daily Planet half an hour later, he entered through the supply room and spun into his street clothes, looking up in astonishment — which quickly changed to resignation — when Lois stepped out from behind a supply cabinet. He should have known she would find him somehow. Should have known that Lois Maddog Lane wouldn't give up that easily. He looked down at the floor.

Lois looked at him, up into the face sporting its determined frown, and suddenly she knew she had hurt him somehow. She moved closer and put her arms around his neck, softly whispering his name.

Clark closed his eyes. He wanted to tell her not to do this, wanted to break out of her embrace, but his body was betraying him again. His arms, acting independently of his will, came up to encircle her.

Encouraged, Lois continued the delightful pastime of coaxing Clark out of the sullens. She pressed against him and raised her lips to his, but at the last minute he turned his head away and her kiss landed on the side of his mouth. Not to be deterred, she took his face in her hands and brushed her lips across his cheek and along his jaw line. "Talk to me, Clark," she commanded. "You can't do this! Yesterday you kissed me and now you won't even speak to me. Was my kissing that bad?"

He drew a shocked breath. "No! Not bad! I —"

"Then why are you mad at me?"

"I'm not mad," he asserted, not very convincingly.

"Yes, you are," contradicted Lois.

"No … ahhh … uhhhmm … I'm not mad," he repeated, much more convincingly this time. Lois's mouth had just found his ear and he was beginning to wonder if it was really so bad that she liked him only because he was Superman.

A noise from outside the room caused Lois to raise her head. She drew back fractionally, patting his chest. "Come on, Clark, let's talk about this," she said. "We could wait for lunch, but I say we do it now. We can go to a coffee shop — the one on Fifth Avenue, not the one on Elm, I don't like the one on Elm, I don't like their bagels, and besides, they make their coffee too weak, so —"

"Lois —"

She slid her hand down his arm and clasped his hand, leading him gently toward the door. Reluctant to release that warm hand, savoring the pressure of her fingers against his palm, Clark followed obediently. "You really need to be more careful, Clark," Lois was saying, " — about disappearing into or coming out of this room, I mean. Someone else might notice and figure things out like I did. We'll have to think of some other way for you to get in and out of here quickly when you're not using the elevator. We can talk about that over coffee, too, and, oh, I have some questions, about your parents and Lex Luthor and …"

Clark's head was in a whirl.

*That's* how she'd found out? But what about that thing with looking at the Suit under his shirt yesterday? Was that just confirmation of her suspicions? Had she guessed his secret earlier in the day? No, that wasn't it — he hadn't used the supply room at all yesterday — he'd used the elevator. So it had to be earlier than that. So … how long ago?

He took a breath. "Lois?"

"… some other things I've been wondering about. Like —"

"Lois!" he said insistently. She stopped talking and looked at him. "What are you talking about? How — when did you find out about me?"

"At the courthouse," said Lois impatiently, like she was surprised at his ignorance … like she expected him to just *know*.

Courthouse? "What courthouse, Lois?" said Clark in exasperation. "What are you talking about?"

"Last month," said Lois in surprise. "You know … when we were researching the Barber case. You disappeared and I followed you, catching up to you in time to see you go into the men's room. And you never came out — not for a long time, anyway."

"That's how you … ? But I could have been sick, or something."

"Huh-uh," Lois shook her head. "You weren't in there — I checked. You disappeared from an eighth-story bathroom! And then you mysteriously came out of it half an hour later."

"You went *into the men's room*???" Clark was scandalized.

"Oh, don't be so medieval, Clark! I asked another man to check it for me first."

"Actually, in medieval times —"

"Never mind that," Lois interrupted. "So that's how I figured it out. That and a few other things."

"But that was … that was a long time ago! Last month. Before we … before you … so *that's* why — yes, you were mad at Clark *and* Superman, I remember. Is that it — is that why you're mad at me?"

"*Was* mad," Lois said, waving a hand as if it were long in the past.

"But … so when you were kissing me yesterday … that wasn't because you'd just realized …" Clark stopped. Something in Lois's face warned him that he was treading on dangerous ground.

"… that I was kissing you because I'd just realized you were Superman? Is that what you thought — is that why *you* were mad?" Lois faced him, hands on hips.

"Well …" said Clark, watching her uneasily, "… I guess so — yes."

"And what made you think I'd fall in lo- that I'd like Clark just because I found out he was Superman?" asked Lois, glaring at him.

"Well, gee, I dunno, Lois. It's not like I had any reason to think you'd respond to me as Superman and not as Clark," he said. "It's not like you swooned over Superman and ignored *me*!"

Lois regarded him thoughtfully. "You know, you really shouldn't try to be sarcastic, Clark," she said. "You don't have the right touch." Clark opened his mouth to argue the point, but Lois swept on, giving him no chance to speak. "And it just so happens," she continued acidly, "that finding out that you were Superman didn't guarantee that I'd have any interest in *you*!"

"I know," said Clark ruefully. It was what he'd been afraid of. It was one of the things that had held him back from telling her. "Well …" he said after a minute. "So why did you stop being mad at me?"

Lois looked down, suddenly pensive. "I guess … after awhile … well, I'd gotten kind of used to having you around." She swallowed. " … and I started to miss you. I missed my partner," she raised her head. "And my friend," she said, looking up into his face. "And —" She stopped.

Clark stared down at her, into her beautiful dark eyes. "Lois," he murmured, "I've missed you, too!" He wrapped his arms around her tightly, burying his face in her hair.

After standing thus for several minutes, Clark put his hand under her chin and raised her head gently, lowering his own head and placing his mouth tentatively over hers. Lois closed her eyes and moaned, wrenching an answering moan from Clark.

So engrossed were they that neither of them heard Jimmy's voice saying, "I don't know … but they've been in there for an awfully long time."

"Who has?" said Perry irascibly, striding toward Roger and Jimmy as they stood in front of the supply room door.

"Uh … no one, Chief," said Jimmy quickly.

Shooing Roger away, Perry grasped the handle of the door and swung it open silently, pulling it hastily shut after one glimpse of the room's occupants.

"You're right, Jimmy," he said quietly, "there's no one in there." He put a hand on Jimmy's shoulder, shepherding him away from the supply room. It was only when they were a safe distance from the room that he threw his head back and laughed without restraint. "No one in there," he repeated. "No one at all."

THE END

Note: The Lois Lane I read in fanfic usually seems to have a "softer" personality than the Lois Lane I saw on television, at least during the first season of the show. I think this is partly because most authors seem to write about Lois and Clark in the second season and thereafter (Zoomway, LabRat and Wendy Richards are notable exceptions — if there are others, I'm sorry for not mentioning you — I haven't read *all* the fanfic out there. <g>)

I wanted to see if I could write a story that would feature Lois *before* Clark <g> and her experiences rounded off her sharp edges, and yet show her as a sympathetic character. I hope I've achieved that.

I also wanted to explore their first-season relationship. How would Lois feel if she found out that her hero was just a man, a man with needs and imperfections just like any other man. What made Clark fall for Lois? Why did Lois initially repulse Clark? How did he finally win Lois over? I know that eventually it was revealed that L&C were soulmates, but since TPTB kept us guessing for the first three seasons I had lots of time to think up other explanations, and I didn't want all that work to go to waste. <g>

Please send comments or complaints to mobile.richard@mailcity.com